Part 8

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ARRIVAL OF THE FRENCH

By the early twentieth century, the Meiji of Japan was the only successful model of an independent state maintaining an imperial system in Asia. In Vietnam, a traditional patriotic scholar, having witnessed the disintegration of Vietnam’s imperial system, set up a programme called “Eastbound Exodus”, which allowed young Vietnamese to be sent to Tokyo for political and military training – amazing that he got away with it under the French.

Another Vietnamese, Phan Chu Trinh, advocated a more radical approach creating democracy through widespread
education for all. In the year the Chinese Manchu empire collapsed (1911), a young man steeped in Trinh’s extremist philosophy, set sail for Marseilles. Nguyen Tat Thanh was the son of a low-grade mandarin, who had been dismissed for his unacceptable views. In the West, young Thanh did any menial job going to support himself. He worked and studied in Paris, London, New York and finally after 1923, in Moscow. In 1942, he recognised that the time was imminent to make a bid for his country’s independence. It was then that he took his final of some fifty aliases: Nguyen the Patriot, Ho Chi Minh.

Much of Hanoi’s charm lies in the legacy of its old tree-lined French avenues; the elegant French-built government buildings, now museums or ministries; the splendidly restored opera house; the renovated Metropole Hotel; the many elegant villas and it must be admitted, even the beauty and magic of Hoan Kiem Lake, which before the French arrived, was encircled by muddy banks and street-less wood and thatch villages, temples and pagodas.

Under the French, Hanoi never quite approached either Shanghai or Hong Kong in importance as a trade centre. Steamers may have plied the Red River between Hanoi and Haiphong, but Hanoi lacked a really deep harbour — the Red River proved un- navigable into the heart of China.

Following their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, as soon as the French left Hanoi in 1954, the Vietnamese took over the French Quarter as well as the French-built government buildings.

With independence following the American-Vietnam War in 1975, a collective feeling arose in Vietnam concerning the need to Preserve Hanoi’s architectural heritage, not only the Thirty-Six Streets and the Citadel area, but the French Quarter. For a country